There's a Richmond connection to an FBI investigation of Catholic Church 'extremism'

Posted at 5:23 PM, Apr 11, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- Congressional House Leaders have asked FBI Director Christopher Wray to testify in connection to a report by the FBI's Richmond Field Office. That report asked FBI agents to watch Catholic Church members for signs of "radicalization" among their congregants.

The April 10 letter, written by U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan, subpoenaed Wray for more documentation and information about the report.

According to Jordan's letter, the document was generated in January, entitled "Interest of Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremists in Radical-Traditionalist Catholic Ideology."

It claimed that based on information provided by the FBI to the committee, the FBI "relied on at least one undercover agent to produce its analysis and that the FBI proposed that its agents engage in outreach to Catholic parishes to develop sources among the clergy and church leadership to inform on Americans practicing their faith."

FBI Headquarters said it removed the document from FBI systems and began conducting a review of the basis for the document.

"While our standard practice is to not comment on specific intelligence products, this particular field office product - disseminated only within the FBI - regarding racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism does not meet the exacting standards of the FBI," a headquarters spokesperson relayed in a statement. "The FBI is committed to sound analytic tradecraft and to investigating and preventing acts of violence and other crimes while upholding the constitutional rights of all Americans and will never conduct investigative activities or open an investigation based solely on First Amendment protected activity."

The FBI Richmond Field Office is not commenting on the matter at this time.

According to Jordan's letter, the report noted chapels in the Richmond area associated with the Society of Saint Pius X, reading:

"In addition to [redaction], engage in outreach to the leadership of other [Society of Saint Pius X] chapels in the FBI Richmond [area of responsibility] to sensitize these congregations to the warning signs of radicalization and to enlist their assistance to serve as suspicious activity tripwires."

Our Lady of Fatima Chapel in Henrico County was listed as part of that society.

There are five different churches associated with the Society of Saint Pius X in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Neither the chapel nor the society responded to a request for comment.

The Richmond Catholic Dioceses shared this statement from Bishop Knestout, posted in February.

It read, in part: "If evidence of extremism exists, it should be rooted out, but not at the expense of religious freedom."

In February, Attorney General Jason Miyares (R - Virginia) condemned the leaked internal document. In a letter to Wray and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, Miyares asked for more information as to why the document was created.

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